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US government targets 71 pot shops in LA for closure

Graphic showing the locations of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles.
A recent UCLA study identified all medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles. The U.S. Attorney's Office is cracking down on what it says are shops operating illegally as commercial businesses.

Federal authorities Tuesday announced they’re seeking to shut down 71 medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles. The U.S. Attorney's office said it is targeting dispensaries that are operating as commercial businesses.

“We intend to enforce the law,” said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, the chief federal prosecutor for the region. “Even those stores not targeted today should understand that they cannot continue to profit in violation of the law.”

Drug Enforcement Administration agents and L.A. Police Department officers raided three pot shops, including Happy Ending Collective in Chinatown — allegedly the biggest marijuana dispensary in the downtown L.A area.

Prosecutors issued 69 warning letters informing other pot shop owners that they are operating in violation of federal law. In three cases, prosecutors filed asset forfeiture lawsuits against owners of properties where marijuana stores operate along Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock.

All of the targeted stores are located in Eagle Rock, downtown Los Angeles and Huntington Park.

“I applaud the actions taken today by the federal government," said Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes Eagle Rock. "I support the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but the state needs to create a better way of providing access for seriously ill patients."

The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and the City Attorney’s Office, along with the LAPD, are cooperating in the investigations.

“Some medical marijuana clinics have been taken over by illegal for-profit businesses that sell recreational marijuana to healthy young adults and attract crime,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement.

The federal action comes as the L.A. City Council considers whether to place a marijuana dispensary ban on the March ballot. The council approved a ban last month, but pot shop owners quickly collected enough signatures to force the council to either repeal the law or ask voters to decide.

People who use marijuana for medicinal purposes argue that banning dispensaries would create an unfair burden. L.A.'s ban would have allowed three or fewer people to grow pot together.

A number of cases are heading to the California Supreme Court to decide whether cities can ban marijuana. State voters approved the medicinal use of pot in 1996, but federal law still prohibits its ingestion for any reason.